July 22, 2015

Race Team Alliance chairman Rob Kauffman tried to spin the ownership group's biggest contributions to NASCAR in the last year as ''things fans don't care about.''

From cost-cutting to fantasy gambling, the RTA has, however, made strides in the sport. And the disconnect between NASCAR and its teams has eased up, which is good news for the series and its fans.

One year after the RTA was launched to much hype and curiosity, the group is riding along without much fanfare. That's just fine with Kauffman.

''There's been a good level of communication, good collaboration among NASCAR, all the tracks, the teams,'' the Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner said this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. ''There much more coordinated conversations in discussing rules changes, ways to improve the show. I think it's been very productive for everybody.''

Kauffman said the RTA, which started with nine team members, has created one voice to benefit the entire garage. Furniture Row Racing, a one-car operation based in Denver, far removed from NASCAR's North Carolina hub, is the only fulltime team that has not joined the RTA.

''We want to evaluate the program as it develops.'' FRR general manager Joe Garone said.

Kauffman said figuring out a long-term equity value for teams could be ahead. So far, he said he was pleased with the results of the past year, even if the average NASCAR fan hasn't been affected by the outcome.

''Team have knocked out millions by consolidating how we travel,'' he said. ''There's been a lot of savings on a lot of small things that add up. The way we've worked with NASCAR on rules changes and testing, that's been millions of savings as well.''

A drivers' council formed earlier this season to discuss their own ideas about safety, the rules package and other ideas.

''When anybody has things that can improve the sport, we're going to be open to that,'' NASCAR chairman Brian France said earlier this month at Pocono Raceway. ''It doesn't really matter how the exact form of communications happens. What matters is that it does happen. We're getting the stakeholders as close to us as we can because there's a lot of good ideas that come out of these discussions.''

The RTA landed DraftKings in a three-year marketing deal where the daily sports fantasy company will bring fans access to a direct data feed from NASCAR Digital Media that contains real-time statistics. DraftKings offers two different types of NASCAR-themed games, a free game for casual players and paid games for avid followers of the sport.

''Hopefully it's the shape of things to come,'' Kauffman said. ''We're trying to do work with them on how we can do more stuff with them with activations or work more with drivers and teams.''

The RTA planned to announce more partnerships soon, perhaps as early as this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

''Everyone just has the same motivation, they want to put on a good show for the fans and have an exciting sport,'' Kauffman said. ''We all want to stay in business. It's pretty straight forward. Like most good businesses, it's based on good communication. Our communication has really improved a lot the past year. Hopefully, our activities have been a contribution to that.''


PACKAGE DELIVERY: NASCAR will use a new rules package for Sunday's race at Indianapolis, where drivers are unsure what to expect.

A track-specific package used in the July 11 race at Kentucky was well-received by most competitors, and race statistics showed it was one of the better Sprint Cup races of the season.

NASCAR will now try a package with higher-drag in an effort to improve passing opportunities at Indianapolis, which is a notoriously tough fit for stock cars.

''I'm going to reserve my opinion until afterward because I don't really think any of us know how (the rules package) is going to act,'' said Greg Biffle, who said the low-downforce package used at Kentucky made for ''one of the best races that I've been in a long time because we were able to do things we couldn't do with the car before.''

NASCAR is trying different packages - a similar package to Kentucky will be used at Darlington next month, while the package at Michigan will be similar to Indianapolis - in an effort to improve the racing.

Indianapolis produces exciting IndyCar races, but the flat, 2.5-mile track doesn't suit the heavier stock cars the same way. NASCAR chairman Brian France has indicated he wants something close to pack racing, but Michigan is likely more suited to bunch the field the way series officials are hoping.

Indianapolis, with just 12 degrees of banking in the corners and long straightaways, has proven to be difficult for NASCAR to figure out.


REMEMBERING WHELDON: IndyCar drivers continue to honor the memory of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon by racing in a karting event in his name.

Scott Dixon, Sarah Fisher, Ed Carpenter and Sebastian Saavedra are among the drivers set for the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am Karting Challenge on Sept. 19 at New Castle (Indiana) Motorsports Park.

The event is a fundraiser for The Dan Wheldon Foundation and the Alzheimer's Association. Wheldon's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2008 and died in April 2014. Wheldon was killed in a crash in 2011 in Las Vegas.

The event features 20 corporate-sponsored teams consisting of one professional driver and three amateur drivers in a two-hour race. Karts for the final stint will be driven by the professional racers.

''When we started this event in 2013, we did it to honor Dan's legacy with support for charities that were near to his heart,'' his widow, Susie Wheldon, said. ''I'm amazed and humbled at what we've accomplished in just two short years.''

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